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 | Mary D. Dillard | Photography By Mary D. Dillard

In Search of Peace

The Road to Priesthood

When sharing his vocation story, Deacon Charles Deering II confesses, “I didn’t have any great epiphanies.” What he did have, however, was a restless heart.

Deacon Deering grew up in a very devout family where the Catholic faith was “always at the forefront.” He had an attraction to religious life and the priesthood early in childhood, but as he edged closer to adulthood, he “ran away from the vocation,” feeling like he wasn’t good enough. “I didn’t think it was something that I was cut out for,” Deacon remembers.

Preparations for his future in the medical field ensued. Something wasn’t right, though. “At any point in the process,” he admits, “I wasn’t at peace. I didn’t really realize that was coming from my refusal to stop and ask the Lord what He wanted for me. I was trying to make it solely what I wanted to do.”

Luckily for the deacon, he had the steadfast witness of his parents. On Saturday evenings after the vigil Mass at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church in Homewood, he would accompany his mother and father, who were committed adorers at the church’s adoration chapel, for an hour in front of the Eucharistic Lord. “Spending that time in front of the Blessed Sacrament,” he says, “was absolutely key for me to fall back in love with the Lord.”

In those quiet moments during adoration, he was able to surrender and say, “Lord, what do You want for me?” With a hint of self-ridicule, he concedes, “That is where I should have started in the first place.”

Although the concept may seem rudimentary, giving control over to the Lord is both challenging and rewarding. As St. Augustine observed in his book, Confessions, the human heart cannot truly be at peace until it rests in the Lord. “That peace that you get when you surrender to the Lord and explore what He wants for you is indicative of the fact that you are doing the right thing,” the deacon explains. His newfound peace led him to ask for the first time honestly and seriously, “What would the priesthood look like for me?”

Surrendering to the Lord is an imperative first step on any vocation journey, but is that it? For the deacon, he also had to realize that “God speaks in a small voice.”

For Deacon Deering, the small voice came courtesy of several priests, including Father Anthony Weis, a priest of only three years at the time. Father Weis made an unassuming suggestion: “Hey, you know you should really think about the priesthood.”

Some men would dismiss such a suggestion, but for Deacon Deering, it meant affirmation. He will be the first person to express gratitude to his parents for supporting his interest in the priesthood, yet he says having a priest support and encourage vocations carries a distinctive weight. A priest is “uniquely placed to identify people,” says the deacon, because to understand priesthood “requires someone who’s lived it.”

During their conversation, Father Weis offered some insight about seminary formation: “There is nothing in the world that is like it, and you have to go and be immersed in that world in order to understand it and ‘feel out’ if it is for you.”

In the fall of 2016, Deacon Deering arrived in New Orleans and crossed the threshold of Notre Dame Seminary. Father Weis’ insight into formation was echoed by the seminary rector, Father James Wehner. He told the group of new seminarians, “You may think that you have been discerning the priesthood up until this point, but you really don’t start your discernment until you come into the seminary.” Deacon says he really didn’t understand that remark until “about two years in.” Father Wehner and Father Weis, speaking from experience, were relaying a truth about seminary: It is the only place available that will afford a man the time and space to fully explore his vocation — daily adoration, daily Mass, morning and evening prayer as a community, instruction about the faith. “When you are steeped in the Lord,” Deacon Deering asserts, “that is when you are actually doing your discernment.”

“On a daily basis,” he says, “when you are going through the seminary process, you consider whether or not it is still for you.” Day after day, the deacon followed the path that left peace in his heart, and in 2021 he was ordained to the transitional diaconate by Bishop Steven J. Raica.

“The experiences I have had as a deacon,” he confides, “have been affirming in ways that I never expected. It’s been a journey that’s been more beautiful than I could ever have imagined or foreseen.”

As an ordained servant of God’s people, Deacon Deering has had people approach him with heavy hearts and difficult questions. “I don’t think there is a priest or deacon on the face of the earth that would tell you they have been prepared for every situation they’ve walked into,” acknowledges the deacon, “but we are ordained for a reason. A big part of that is the presence of the Holy Spirit in a special way in our lives.”

The deacon has experienced the Holy Spirit’s presence on more than one occasion. Whether it be him comforting a hurting person or writing a Sunday homily, the Holy Spirit has stepped in to take over when words failed him. “There is something going on in ordination and after ordination that is very real.” Deacon Deering says with complete certainty, “The Lord does not abandon those who choose to serve Him in this capacity.”

As he looks forward to his ordination to the priesthood in June, he offers some advice: “Look at people who live a life filled with joy and who are able to exude that joy and infect other people with that joy. Identify what is at the center of their life. Nine times out of ten, it’s the Lord.”

“Showing people that it’s possible to live in such a dark world with the source of your happiness so impervious to what’s going on around you is going to be all you need to encourage people to be courageous and ask the question, ‘What does the Lord want me to do with the life that has been given to me?’”

Ordination to the Priesthood

Deacon Charles Deering II will be ordained to the priesthood at the Cathedral of St. Paul on Saturday, June 11. The Mass will begin at 11 a.m. All are welcome to celebrate with Deacon Deering as he takes the next step on his journey of service to the Church. The cathedral is located at 2120 3rd Ave., N. in downtown Birmingham.